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Opinion

There’s no time like the present for the Future Generations Bill

The legislation that we propose in the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill will put dynamite under the accumulating bad practices that savage us later

Future generations bill

The Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill is aiming to stop political short-termism that hampers tackling long-term issues like poverty and climate change. Image credit: Mike Baumeister/Unsplash

The past, the present and the future are like three different things. For instance like a hairbrush, a spinning top and a jar of marmalade.

Or that’s what you would think if you spoke to any practising politician whose immediate, continuous and permanent job is to win an election. They are stuck in the present and can only think of the future if it in some ways solves the eternal problem that they may be given the big elbow at the next election.

So you have this very pressing requirement if you are a full-time, elected professional politician. Your mind has to acclimatise to this very strange rearrangement of the world in a neurosis of feared rejection, in the same way that a youngster getting a job on a cross-channel ferry might have to get used to the swells and rough seas. Or maybe a trainee doctor to the sight of blood and pus or the smell of shit.

You have to find a way of accommodating competition for your seat, and at the same time get used to the temporariness of it all.

The past is everything that has ever happened. The present is everything that is happening. The future is everything that just might happen. And into this you have to factor in ensuring as well as you can that you have a future that involves you winning office again.

Recently I spoke to a politician of a particularly impressive kind. She was part of the ‘new wave’: action-packed and devoted to her constituents. When I spoke about how I was going to bring a bill in the House of Lords that hopefully will go to the House of Commons, where she sat, and that it was called ‘The Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill’, she did not warm to the idea.

We have in some sense to end the dominance of the past over our current world. Or bad past practices dominating the current world order

“How does it help my constituent who comes to me with a big problem now? Will the future help? Will the wellbeing of some later time stop her going through a meltdown now?”

This was not an MP shirking her responsibility. This was a committed MP who you could tell was sincerely there for her constituents.

“OK,” I said, “the reason your constituent might today have a big problem is because the previous incumbent of your job might not have done their job properly. For most problems, in fact all of them, come from the past.”

She looked at me and smiled.

“Let’s see if we can look at this Future Generations Bill then.”

And we left it at that. Some time later I will try and take the argument further.

I had got her to pause. To see that the past comes up to bite the world of today. And that we have to find a way of accommodating the past. We have in some sense to end the dominance of the past over our current world. Or bad past practices dominating the current world order.

The Palestine-Israel fighting is not just about current disagreements. It’s about what was done in the past that keeps this problem reigniting. It wasn’t sorted out in the past so it’s likely to carry on presenting itself again and again. And often, because it was not resolved some time back, each time it reappears it becomes more venomous on both sides.

The constituent who runs into a problem now may well have been nursing the problem for quite a time. It might have been small at some time. But the longer it is ignored, the deeper the damage. The longer the roof tile is left unrepaired, the more damage it does to the roof and
the house.

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The past should teach us to address the future in the here and now. Because the past was once a future, and it was then that the constituent’s problem was created, or then that the big issues of politics and history should have been sorted out.

The past, present and future are not different objects, as they are treated by politicians intent on surviving. They are fluid and they flow into each other, the past and present having once been a future. And the future will one day be a past.

So much of our past comes back to haunt us now. So much of our present is trying to cope with the past and its problems, whether it’s slavery, or sexist politicians, or homophobic TV programmes of former times.

The future generations legislation that we propose in the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill will put dynamite under the accumulating bad practices that savage us later. That is the only sensible thing. We cannot keep projecting into the future the poor practices of the past, making us behave in a way that illustrates we were not conscious in the past of the demands that would be put upon us in the future.

This is all likely to turn into a rigmarole of classic proportions, for which forgive me. What I am saying is that there will come a time when we will have to create a different past that does not tread on and exploit the weak for our own advantage. And there is no better time to begin that new past than now, for the future. Which begins – yes: in the here and now.

John Bird is the founder of The Big Issue

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